If you’re applying to graduate school or law school for 2010-2011, it looks like you’re going to have some competition. While the recession had little impact on graduate and professional school applications last year, early reports indicate that this year will be a different story.
As of October, the number of people taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) was up 20 percent from the same month in 2008, reaching a record high of 60,746 test-takers. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) also saw a substantial increase in test-takers, with 670,000 people taking the test in 2009, a 13 percent increase from 2008.
Application rates have shot even higher at some law schools. According to an article in the New York Times, several law schools have seen applications increase by 30 percent or more. Cornell University has seen law school applications rise 44 percent between 2008 and 2009, despite making no substantial changes in recruiting practices.
Part of the overall rise in test-takers and applicants could very well be due to increased promotion of these programs. You’ve probably seen at least one advertisement encouraging you to take the GRE in the past few months. Many colleges are also promoting their graduate options as a way to make up for budget cuts and endowment losses: generally, graduate students (especially in master’s and professional programs, where tuition waivers are less common) pay higher tuition and receive fewer tuition discounts than in-state undergraduates. A number of schools are expanding seats in graduate programs to meet rising demand and generate revenue, and it's possible to see some offering more assistantships to shift a greater percentage of teaching duties onto graduate students, as well.
Whether or not they received substantial graduate scholarships, students who are currently finishing PhD and JD programs may find their job prospects aren’t much better than those of students who don’t have an advanced degree. Job openings at universities are down across the humanities and social sciences, by close to 50 percent in some cases. Law students also are facing bleak hiring pictures, as they compete for fewer jobs against more laid-off lawyers who have substantially more job experience. The uncertain job prospects awaiting many students at the end of years-long graduate programs have prompted some in academia to question the wisdom of pursuing an advanced degree right now.
Graduate school can still be a good choice and a good investment, though. If you love your subject, excel in it, and cannot imagine yourself doing anything else, a doctorate or a law degree may be the right choice for you, especially if you can get a substantial scholarship or fellowship to assist with costs. There are also a number of master’s degree programs that can prepare you for professional work, help you gain a promotion in your current industry, or otherwise pay off in terms of earning potential and personal enrichment. The best bet for finding the right graduate program is to do a thorough college search, paying particular attention to where graduates of your prospective programs ultimately wind up working. If most graduates wind up with good jobs in their field, the degree may very well be worth your while.